The thing about endurance races is that it takes a little longer to recover from a race, at least for me. But this FLE season is front loaded to take advantage of our amazing Florida Winter, so 2 weeks after the first round in Lakeland we headed to Geneva outside of Orlando for the 6 Hour Battle of Snow Hill. We raced here during the FSC season due to Hurricane Irma causing a reschedule, so I had a little idea of what was in store, but this course had a good bit more technical roots, mud, and single track along the Little Big Econ river.
First thing, Snow Hill doesn’t have any snow. I mean, there was some “Florida Snow” aka sugar sand, but not bad like we’re used to down here in South Florida. And really not much of a Hill either, with around 100’ of climbing each lap. After pre-riding the course with some friends on Saturday I felt pretty good about the race. When we lined up Sunday morning I saw some new and familiar faces as I got ready for the typical moto-paced start with Dave Berger’s Honda Trail 90. As we sat near the gate chatting I saw Dave sneak over with the microphone and whistle in hand, and I knew we were about to do a mass XC start. YIKES! Luckily I had practiced those during the FSC season, so when he blew the whistle I took off, sprinting down the fire road like it was a 60 minute race. I definitely prefer to start off a little easier on a 6 hour effort, but I knew I’d need to get into the woods early with the new muddy & rooty section coming up early in the lap.
Going into the woods somewhere near the top 10 or so, the riders in front of me settled into an endurance pace while some of the top 3 and 6 hour guys smashed ahead. Once we got to the first fire road a few of us pacelined and pushed a good pace for a couple minutes. The fire roads can be a good place to make up time, recover, or just grab a drink. Throughout the day I’d use that fire road for all of those things. The 2nd half of the course was very similar to the FSC course and reminds me of Halpatioke. Natural, flat corners through trees and roots, with occasional sand and mud throughout a low pine scrub forest, it was really pretty.
It was towards the end of lap 1 I noticed some noises coming from my bike, and they were getting louder. I tried to pedal through them for a while but it was getting worse and worse, squealing and screeching. I had picked up a big vine at some point, and hit my pedals a few times on the big palmetto roots, so I knew it must be something to do with that. At a certain point I decided to go ahead and fix it now before it became a bigger problem, whatever it was. As I stopped I watched a dozen riders go by, which was a bummer but I knew the day was young, and we were 30 minutes into a 6 hour race. It would be fine, just figure out what the problem is and fix it. I realized that my rubber crank boots had become partially dislodged on both pedals, causing the noise and resistance with every pedal stroke. It took me a couple minutes to pull the tight fitting rubber boots back into place, but I was able to get back rolling and back in the race.
I crossed the line lap 1 about 2-3 minutes down from most of the top competitors I had been with, but I knew it was a long day and there would be plenty of time to recover. I grabbed a bottle and started on lap 2. I began to catch some of those who had passed me in the technical sections, including a really really bad oak root that bent more than its share of chainrings and cranks during the race (see Bikeminded Live FB videos for cleans, crashes, and bonks). After scraping it several times, and missing the bypass when I saw Jemma’s bike indicating she was up ahead, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk and cyclocrossed that one before taking the bypass the rest of the race. It doesn’t always slow you down that much but it definitely ensures you have a working crank for the rest of the 6 hour race!
Flowing through the woods I started to find my pace and when we got to the fire road one of the 3 hour guys laid down the hammer. It was all I could do just to sit on his wheel, we were doing 20mph+ on a sandy dirt road! Unfortunately once we got into the woods I think that was the last I saw of my new best friend, as he was on a mission to catch the top guys in the 3 hour category.
Despite the adversity early in the day, I decided to stay positive and push forward. My friend Troy had told me that the mind gives up far before the body will, and that I should just keep my head in the race. I repeated that sentiment in my head as I clicked off laps, taking a bottle of Infinit Custom Mix each lap and pushing on alone. I was getting splits of how far I was behind some of the other racers so I knew about where I was, but not really sure where that was overall. After lap 5, I stopped for a little longer pit stop to take a breath and chug an energy drink. Sometimes a little caffeine and sugar gives a nice kick, and it did. Right as I was starting to fade, I was able to keep pushing. Sure, you’re going to drop off by hour 4 or 5 from what you were doing at the start, but I was able to keep relatively consistent all day.
Watching my power, heart rate, and lap times I could get a pretty good gauge of how my body was responding, and I did my best to keep my mind in the best place possible to give me a chance to finish strong. As the day got warmer I was glad to push on without any cramping; after reviewing my nutrition strategy at Lakeland it turned out I mixed my bottles wrong and was way off with electrolytes and calories. I got it right this day, and felt pretty good and cramp free all day in much warmer conditions. Each lap you saw different lines and angles to take in the trails, so I was getting more smooth and comfortable as the day went on.
One rule for this 6 hour race is that if you complete a lap after the 6:00:00 time cutoff, that lap does not count. So throughout the day, especially towards the end, you’re doing a bit of math to determine how many laps you’re going to get in. I had a feeling I’d get 9 laps in so I had my mind set on that from the start, and it was going to be close as laps 6 and 7 wrapped up. When I finished lap 8 I knew that I had time for a 9th lap, but it was going to be close so I better hurry. I took my last bottle and went out on the course one last time. I pushed as hard as I could, hoping perhaps one last push would help me catch the last competitor and get in under the time cut.
Pushing as hard as I could, I had another racer come by me like I was standing still. Dang! I wasn’t sure what class he was in, but I couldn’t even hang on his wheel for a second so I just settled to do my best and see how it shook out. I hammered out the 9th lap almost 2 minutes faster than my 8th lap which was good, but I emptied the tank and really had nothing left when I crossed the line at 5:55. The last lap counted! Speechless and covered in salt, I cooled down on the bike wondering how I’d done.
Results weren’t up yet but it sounded like I was a few minutes behind the winner, and the guy who’d passed me at the end was in another class so no loss there. When they tallied all the results it turns out my time was good enough for 2nd in the Amateur class, and 5th overall. I was really pleased with that, but more so that I did my best. That’s really all you can ask, and it was good enough to stand on the podium with some really fast guys and great competitors. Snow Hill is really a gem of a trail system and if you’re ever in the Orlando area I’d definitely recommend a trip. The next race is only 2 weeks later in Hialeah at Amelia Earhart Park and 2 weeks later is the legendary 12 Hours of Santos, so no recovery quite yet!
Jemma cheered for us for 6 hours straight and got some pretty great photos while she was at it, be sure to check them out and use them for your latest bike race profile photo! We really hope you enjoy them, check out the full Battle of Snow Hill 2018 Endurance Race Gallery and sneak peek below!